For­got­ten book­marks

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­

I’m sure all of us have had the same ex­pe­ri­ence at some point in our lives. We grab a book and sit down to read when, all of a sud­den, some­thing in­ter­rupts us. What to do? We reach for the clos­est thing at hand to mark where we left off. It might be an ac­tual book­mark. Or, it might be some­thing more pro­saic, like a bus or lot­tery ticket, card, let­ter, re­ceipt, recipe, pho­to­graph, flyer or ad­ver­tise­ment. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are as var­ied as the peo­ple who use book­marks.

Even­tu­ally, the book might find its way into the world at large. It might be do­nated to a pub­lic or school li­brary. It might end up in a flea mar­ket or garage sale. Or it might land on other peo­ple’s book­shelves or in a used book­store.

But, I of­ten won­der, what be­comes of those so-called for­got­ten book­marks? What sto­ries could they tell?

I have a story to tell. Sev­eral years ago, I had my own ex­pe­ri­ence with a for­got­ten book­mark.

I was stand­ing in front of a li­brary shelf in an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion. The en­tire col­lec­tion of books was be­ing sold. One book in par­tic­u­lar caught my eye. I pulled it off the shelf and rif­fled through it. It was def­i­nitely one I wanted for my per­sonal col­lec­tion. The ask­ing price — a mere 50 cents — was no ob­ject. How­ever, on sec­ond thought, I changed my mind and re­turned the book to the shelf.

The next day, temp­ta­tion strong as­sail­ing me, I went back to the li­brary to see if “my” book was still there.

It was so, this time, I forked over the half dol­lar and took the book out to the car with me.

On my way home, cu­rios­ity got the bet­ter of me. As I lifted the book and idly flipped the pages, a sealed en­ve­lope dropped out. I stopped the car and ever so gen­tly opened it. Imag­ine my sur­prise when, from within, there flut­tered to my lap a size­able col­lec­tion of bills in vary­ing de­nom­i­na­tions, be­gin­ning with the lofty $100 and de­scend­ing to the lowly $1.

I was faced with a quandary. I knew the book was now mine, as I had bought and paid for it. But were the un­ex­pected con­tents within mine, as well?

I al­lowed my mind to do the won­der­ing for me. If a bus or lot­tery ticket, card, let­ter, re­ceipt, recipe, pho­to­graph, flyer or ad­ver­tise­ment had emerged from the book, would I have re­turned it to the seller? No. There was no rel­a­tive value to th­ese com­mon ob­jects. Well, I ra­tio­nal­ized, why should I re­turn the en­ve­lope con­tain­ing the money?

Mean­while, I wanted to do the hon­ourable thing. Af­ter all, there is a sec­tion in the book headed “Hon­esty,” and an­other on “Con­science.” Ac­cord­ing to the au­thor, “The con­science in man is his Holy of Holies.”

I be­gan an in­tense search for iden­ti­fy­ing marks. There were none on the book show­ing the orig­i­nal owner. The en­ve­lope was pris­tine both inside and out. And, the bills were in mint con­di­tion. So, I con­vinced my­self, there’s no way to track down the owner of the book, a first edi­tion with a copy­right date of 1953.

Two weeks ago, I was re­minded of my lucky find when I read the book, “For­got­ten Book­marks: A Book­seller’s Col­lec­tion of Odd Things Lost Be­tween the Pages.” The au­thor, Michael Popek, presents a ver­i­ta­ble scrap­book of his most in­ter­est­ing finds. There are, for ex­am­ple, ticket stubs, notes, valen­tines, un­sent let­ters, fourleaf clovers, and var­i­ous sor­did, heart­break­ing and bizarre keep­sakes. This col­lec­tion of lost trea­sures of­fers a glimpse into other read­ers’ lives that they never in­tended for us to see.

Back to my find: in my most re­flec­tive mo­ments, I won­der about the owner of the money I found in the book. Why was it placed there in the first place? What was it in­tended for? What did the owner do when he or she re­al­ized both the en­ve­lope and money were mis­placed? How did they deal with their loss?

In case you’re won­der­ing, I have no qualms about ad­mit­ting what I did with the money: I took it home with me and used it to buy gro­ceries. At the same time, I still won­der if what I did was right. Was there some­thing else I could have done? For ex­am­ple, even if I had re­turned it to the li­brary, would the li­brar­ian have been able to iden­tify the owner of the book?

Out of cu­rios­ity, what would you have done?

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­

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